ALMOST every teenager has memories of ‘that’ music venue.

For generations of youths in South Wales, that venue was TJs, a bustling Newport spot which became a symbol of the city’s burgeoning music scene – dubbed at one time as 'the new Seattle’ by New York Times critic Neil Strauss.

Founded in 1971 by the late John Sicolo, the venue’s stage has been graced by some of the biggest names in music history, developing a reputation that also led DJ John Peel to dub it ‘The Legendary TJs’.

In its time, TJs has been home to everyone from Oasis, Stone Roses and Muse to Catatonia and Manic Street Preachers, alongside being labelled by FHM as one of the top 50 big nights out in the world in 1997.

Decades later, many gig-goers still testify to its almost mythical status.

For many gig-goers, TJs was a cultural melting pot – a venue that gave unknown bands a chance while providing an electric atmosphere, a community and a place to meet musical heroes.

Candice Lee Karenin, of Newport, was introduced to TJs by her brother who visited regularly from the mid-1980s and believes it has “shaped the person (she) is today”.

“I heard many wondrous tales about the place from him and his friends, so when I turned 15 and was allowed to go clubbing (my mother was very lenient) there was only one place I was interested in going," she said.

“I spent a large majority of my Friday and Saturday nights there for the next four to five years, made many friends, was introduced to new music, saw great bands, and had some awful and some brilliant nights.

“I remember it at its peak in the late 90s when it was rammed every weekend and there was always a huge queue to get in, to the quieter times in the noughties when you could wander in at any time.

“One of my favourite memories was when I finally got to perform on stage as a guest vocalist alongside my best friend's band, ‘Mainstream Distortion,’” she added.

Pontypool Community Councillor, Gaynor James, 60, recalls working as a taxi driver in Newport in her early 20s when the venue was called El Siecos and Newport’s nightlife drew “thousands of people”.

“It used to be non-stop and was a popular venue for live music but I think that music licensing for pubs and the smoking ban killed it for live music,” she said.

Former TJs employee Alex Studer also has fond memories of the Newport music hub, leaving the job four months before John Sicolo’s death in 2010.

“I worked there doing just about everything from moving John’s stuff from one room to another then back again, moving the stage, bar work, online streaming of shows, being a DJ and cleaning John’s flats,” he said.

“I also ended up living in a flat above for about a year and played loads of gigs there too. It was a great time.”

Paul Lloyd, of Cwmbran, vividly remembers visiting TJs in 2003/04 to see American punk band The Vandals — the same night Sepultura and Motorhead were playing in the Newport Centre.

“John Sicolo, knowing my fondness for having a messy night on the pop at concerts warned me to behave myself,” he said.

“By the end of the night I ended up buying a fluorescent pink Vandals shirt and meeting Derek Green from Sepultura.”

Dean Beddis, of Kriminal Records, based in Newport’s Indoor Market, was also involved in Newport’s music scene when TJs was at its height, running the label Rockaway Records at the time.

Working with Simon Phillips, of organisation ‘Cheap Sweaty Fun’, the group put on alternative and punk shows at TJs, hosting bands such as NOFX, The Offspring, Rocket From the Crypt and Greenday.

Recalling the atmosphere of the venue, Mr Beddis said: “It was part of the culture of drinking and music and was a vibrant place at a time when people still went out a lot.

“It was very much a ‘spit and sawdust’ venue, there was no stage — it was eight-inches off the floor — and we used to be at the front pushing the crowd back before we put up scaffolding by the stage.

“I had some great times there and it was brilliant in hindsight. There was no backstage area and no stage and people would gather together upstairs after the shows. It was a real community.

“It has become one of the places like The Cavern Club for the Beatles. We would see bands play there who were just a bunch of young kids and were ok but we didn’t think they would end up filling stadiums.

“It wasn’t about making money out of it but to make money for the bands. Today I can’t see a venue like TJs existing again.”

While several music myths lurk in TJs past - including Kurt Cobain proposing to Courtney Love on the night her band Hole played TJs in 1991 - the venue today stands empty and unused.

Before John Sicolo’s death, it suffered financial difficulty, causing its owner to reportedly pour thousands of pounds from his pension fund into the venue to keep it from closing.

Following John’s death in 2010, aged 66, Newport mourned the loss of the influential bar owner with several tribute concerts as family announced TJs would close.

The following year, the Argus reported that Ozzeer Hassan and his father, from Cardiff, bought the Clarence Place club at auction, with plans to convert the property into a TJs themed restaurant.

According to Land Registry documents, TJs is currently registered to 121 Ventures Ltd, a property company based in the Croydon area of London. The former club still remains undeveloped.

Jon James, 62, of Pontypool, performed at TJs in the 1990s with his band ‘The Beavers’ recalls Newport’s thriving music scene, where you “could get gigs four or five times a week in different pubs’.

“Going back to the early 1990s, I remember that TJs created a scene that brought a lot of people together and there would always be young bands, it was an outlet for them to make a start,” he said.

“Obviously it’s sad thinking about the closure and it did feel like the end of an era. It was very different in those days.”

Although grandson Ashley Sicolo attempted to revive the TJs legend earlier this year with El Siecos Bar on Newport High Street - ‘rock ‘n’ roll history museum and John Sicolo portraits included - the venue shut its doors months after opening.

Today, the original TJs remains undeveloped and devastated by fire damage following a deliberate blaze earlier this month.

Mr Beddis added: “In the end TJs was getting very quiet anyway, the venue booked Pauline Black from ska band ‘The Selecter’ and four people turned up.

“But that was the way it was going, crowds just weren’t coming out and the bands that people wanted to see were playing bigger venues.

“It would be nice if it could be turned into a restaurant or even have a plaque outside so it gets the recognition it deserves, not just for the music fans but for the bands that played there,” he added.

Newport-born filmmaker Nathan Jennings hopes to preserve the club's memory for new generations, in a documentary transporting audiences to the height Newport’s music scene - with TJs as a focal point.

“Every town has its club, an iconic place people meet to meet and express themselves through music,” he said.

“John Sicolo allowed TJs to be a place for people to connect and was not shy in giving young talent a platform, allowing them a stage and opportunity to perform.

“I will paint a picture of Newport for those that have never been there before and show what drove these people to create this scene. Not to mention allowing people to feel the hot sweaty atmosphere of this dark dingy cave-like venue.”

As the documentary enters production this year, Mr Jennings is appealing to fans, musicians and gig-goers to share their memories of the iconic venue.

He added: “For anyone that has ever stepped through the door of TJs whether they be a punter or musician, locally or from across the seas, everyone has left with an incredible experience.

“No matter how loud, over-capacity or sweaty the show of their favourite punk band was, it all makes for such a greater experience, which is sadly now lost.

“The venue is no longer existent and the building is sitting in a former self of what it once used to be. I want the essence of Newport and the atmosphere of TJs to be felt again.”

To share your memories of TJs and Newport’s music scene, contact Nathan Jennings on: